Salif Keita / Moffou
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Salif Keita
Verve Universal

cd cover

Salif Keita possesses one of the most exquisite voices to ever come out of Mali, the continent of Africa, or anywhere else, for that matter. It is an instrument of miraculous beauty, power, and intuition. His prowess is all the more remarkable in that he is not a Jali (hereditary musician) but a renegade nobleman who was forced to rely entirely on his wits and native ability. He is also an Albino, which often carries a strong negative stigma in parts of Africa. He struck out on his own as a young man, moving to the capitol city of Bamako, where he eventually came up through the ranks of the legendary Rail Band (his 20-minute-long recording of "Mandjou" remains a must-hear track.) He later helped found another seminal group, Les Ambassadeurs, before heading to Paris and going solo.

In 1987, he achieved an international hit with Soro, a glossy, club-oriented confection produced by Ibrahima Sylla. Several other releases followed; some were better than others. It is interesting to note that one of the best-loved of these was Mansa Of Mali, a neatly assembled career retrospective that showcased decades worth of his finest tunes. However, with Moffou, Keita has finally made the epoch-defining album his admirers have been waiting for and always suspected he had in him. Now in his early fifties, he has never sounded quite so confident, self-aware, and fun-loving. The set commences with "Yamoke," a languid, hip-switching duet between Keita and platinum-selling Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora. This cut, with its mellow accordion riffs and sexy call-and-response female choirs, has undeniable crossover appeal and will certainly achieve widespread airplay. Other tunes hint at the slap-happy glory days of eighties Afropop while eschewing the era's telltale, sappy synthesizer patches and impertinent drum machines. But after repeated listening, it is the ballads, simple and usually accompanied only by guitar, that emerge as the heart and soul of Moffou. In them, Keita's life's work is consolidated and glorified via the sympathetic, relaxed maturity of an artist in his prime. His soaring, Islamic-flavored tenor is supported throughout by Kante Manfila's gracious, meticulously crafted acoustic arrangements. Some of Keita's earlier efforts, for all their manifold beauties, have not entirely withstood the ravages of hindsight. Moffou is a classic in the making; it will never, ever sound dated. - Christina Roden

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